Archives For Yoruba

Odùduwà is the power of the womb, the well of existence in the Yoruba religion. He is the progenitor of the Yoruba people, brother of Orisha Obatalá (the justice bringer) and, in some stories, the first ancestor. When the world was covered in water, it was Odùduwà who first descended from heaven and laid the spell that pulled up the land up from the sea, finishing the work of his brother, Obatalá, who had become inebriated partly through the work of Orisha Eshu. The first bit of land that rose from the waters would become the city of Ile-Ife, Nigeria, the spiritual center of the Yoruba religion and the gateway to heaven.

Statue of Oduduwa at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Photo Credit: Manny Tejeda-Moreno

Statue of Oduduwa at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Photo Credit: Manny Tejeda-Moreno

When human forms were later molded by Obatalá, Odùduwà became their first emperor, the Oba, of Ile-Ife. It would be through him that all the lineages of all the Yoruba would trace ancestry. He would become the father of all seven leaders that headed the seven kingdoms comprising the Yoruba confederacy. Still, while Odùduwà would be revered as the founder of the Yoruba and first builder of the land, neither was an act of leadership. He would not become the Orisha of leadership. He was simply there laying those foundations and doing the groundwork as it were. Leadership was something else.

The title “Orisha of Leadership” would belong to Orisha Chango, the fourth king of Òyó, one of the seven Yoruba kingdoms. Through Obatalá’s tutelage in diplomacy, justice, governance and kindness, Chango would become the Orisha of Leadership because of his hard work, his intelligence, his compassion and his charm. Chango is charismatic, powerful and seductive. He would show his faults: ego, arrogance, lust and manipulative tendencies. He is imperfect, but he uses all his industry, intelligence and charisma on behalf of his community, in order to make it ethical, just and powerful. But Chango is also genuine, eternally and deeply concerned for his children. Despite his temper and his self-absorption, Chango works hard — inexhaustibly hard — so that his children can succeed. He goes into battle for them, prepared for his own sacrifice so they might thrive in a difficult world.

These stories are complicated. They are part of an oral tradition and so versions of the story naturally vary. But they offer some important insights into what our expectations should be of our leaders. Simply put: leaders should serve; they should be genuine; they should be transparent.

There is large body of science concerning leadership, literally tens of thousands of research studies. It’s far too much to cover, but the evidence points in much the same direction. Effective leaders organize compassionately, avoid judgments, engage their community, serve transparently, and act genuinely; see Yukl (2012) for a comprehensive review.

Despite the wealth of lore from many traditions, the idea of “leadership” is a modern construction. Somewhere around 1821, the words “leader” and “ship” get combined during a speech in British parliament to mean the demonstrated act of being a leader. Before that point, words were used like headship, origins of which seem to go back to the 14th Century.

But the Proto-Indo-European root, leith- from which the word leader evolves in the Western language set has a deeper meaning. It means “to leave and die,” in modern parlance, to sacrifice. It echoes the theme of the dying and rising god, and that theme is found across the Pagan landscape from Baldr to Dionysius to Quetzalcoatl. Leaders suffer and sacrifice to bring new life into the world. They exist to serve. Their acts of service to the community should define them.

And that is what’s important in these messages: the community should come first. This should neither be underestimated nor subordinated. It remains one the great wells of strength that is tapped by all faiths. Yet, that message is consistently underappreciated and even overtly ignored by some leaders in favor of their own insights, authority and careers. It is important now, as we make choices about how we will spend our resources of time, money and spirit.

As the festival season clicks the turbo button, we experience an annual embarrassment of riches. Almost uniquely to the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, we experience an opportunity to be in a community that is often denied to a broader Pagan world.  These festivals are an opportunity to enter fellowship with others of similar minds, faiths, paths, and ways of interpreting the world around us. Festivals are a tremendous opportunity for such fellowship. But, regrettably, they have also become increasingly tainted with a focus on celebrity over community.

Festivals are not sacred sites; they will never rival the natural majesty of such locations. They can take place in or near sacred locations. More importantly, they can be sacred encounters. On a day-to-day basis, many people exist in relative isolation from other Pagans. The occasion to engage in uncensored, non-judgmental conversation is uncommon within most of our professional lives and even throughout our daily lives. The opportunity to share personal gnosis or spiritual experiences without persecution can be stiflingly rarefied. The act of simply being among is itself powerfully transformative. That act requires no celebrity and no confounding of leadership with celebrity; it only requires community.

Rather than focus on the opportunities and strength of fellowship, there’s an overt competition to find individuals who will provide the biggest draw, and then confusing acts of salesmanship or entertainment with acts of leadership. Now, before going on, I should be clear. Make no mistake with my point here: festivals must make money in order to survive, and that’s perfectly fine. That sustenance means a future festival.

However, often times the role of a leader becomes tiredly entangled with secondary professions like performer, author or speaker. We like the term headliner, and we even focus on those people as the reasons to go to a festival. Sadly when that happens, we also diminish the significance of fellowship. We fall into the common — even mainstream — spiral in which the power of the community is underestimated; launching a slow but real and persistent slippage to attract festival goers by offering interactions with celebrities.

[Photo Credit: marfis75 on Flickr]

[Photo Credit: marfis75 on Flickr]

Now “celebrity” isn’t bad, but it’s not leadership, and conjoining that space opens a dangerous door. Celebrity is presentation; it is talent and in some ways, disguise. Celebrity rarely seeks humility or transparency. It rarely espouses hospitality or subordinates itself to community. It may say so, but it seldom feels genuine. Celebrity is pomp. It’s about claims; it’s about sales. It is much more about marketing than service, genuineness or transparency.

And it’s troubling. But not because we shouldn’t have headliners, and not because the festival producers shouldn’t make money. Both are good. It’s troubling because we get treacherously close to mixing celebrity and religion, especially when we actually have true leaders in our community who do offer their service, genuineness and transparency without having anything to sell.

In Dune, our ancestor Frank Herbert (1965) explores how the powerful will exploit religion for social control. Herbert shows how ritual and religion can come together to create an elite class that ultimately promotes hierarchy and suppresses revolutionary thought. He certainly was not the first to make such commentary. Another ancestor, sociologist Max Weber (1947), also argued that, while the tendency toward bureaucracy constituted the most rational solution for social organizing, it also built an impersonal “iron cage” of rule-based social control.

But above all, Weber noted that groups — especially when there is a time of need or confusion — have a tendency to seek leaders to explain the world and offer us insights, or help us navigate the mystical and become more powerful. Weber termed it charismatic authority, a form of leadership and power that comes neither from legal nor traditional authority. This form of authority that can, in its darker moments, attempt to consolidate all three to become controlling and nothing more than celebrity. Sociologist Eileen Barker (1984) famously aligned these behaviors with the leaders of new religious movements, especially cults.

And there is an even darker side here; a much darker one.

Those style leaders focus their charisma on building their celebrity and status. They use the tools of marketing and manipulation to entrench themselves in the lives of followers. They promise the revelation of secrets; they insist on making followers feel chosen or invested in being graduated as new spiritual leaders themselves.These individuals seek devotion through the promise of spiritual awakening. The worst of these types look to sex as a means of control, while others are even more sinister in that they demand emotional intimacy. Some of these spiritual “leaders” will add a sense of inclusiveness and secrecy that promotes the specialty of the followers and go so far as to offer a unique name that identifes those people on the outside, and those on the inside.

These leaders place themselves as the gatekeepers of spiritual paths. They cultivate a belief in their power, their insight, and their hidden knowledge. They nurture adoration and finally suggest a price. Sometimes the price is fiscal, sometimes it’s emotional. And through that price, they seek control over others. They selfishly channel our energy to themselves; all in the name of spiritual awakening and the building of a new and powerful movement.

But that is not a movement. It’s an audience. And community inoculates us from these kinds of deceptions.

Creating and sustaining community is about building a network of options and support that strengthens our spirit. The community gives us the courage to build a mission and the hope to see it fulfilled. A strong community helps us live, helps us achieve and eventually helps us die. Community helps us grow our spirit and helps us release it. Our stories, our experiences and our teachers share the certainty that leaders must be in community with us. Good leaders and powerful leaders work within community so they themselves are no longer needed. They are our headliners.

The Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist movements have been famously insulated from achieving cult-status. By having no central charismatic figure, there is no authority and no bureaucracy to decide how our morality is to evolve. There is no one person responsible for validating our experiences or legitimizing our beliefs. Pagan scholarship, from as early as Adler’s (1979) groundbreaking Drawing Down the Moon and Luhrman’s (1991) problematic Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, has consistently demonstrated that the group and not the person was critical to the viability of a Pagan movement. Even in our more prominent spiritual organizations with centralized leadership, the role of the central bureaucrat is to support, not validate.

Our approaches to consensus are a testament to our community-focus and commitment. Real leaders leverage that strength to make themselves obsolete. They strive to be genuine and build the trust of those they serve. They don’t need to appoint magical successors or keepers of secrets; their message is their magic and their community is its manifestation. Our community is blessed with many.

The respected elders I know in several traditions have never denied access to their knowledge. They have never hidden behind secrecy or secrets, and they are the first to admit when they too are grasping for answers. If they are oath-bound, they say so but never make you feel like outsider or unworthy of such knowledge. They are apologetic when they are narcissistic, ungrateful and controlling, because they share their failings. They are not special and want to share their ordinariness. They expose their humanity rather than boasting their exceptionality.

These kinds of leaders don’t care about lighting up a room: they care about making a connection. They care about community. The coming summer and festival season offers us a new opportunity to live in community. It also offers us the opportunity to witness how are leaders strengthen it. Those relying on celebrity will point to their magic, those relying on the joy of community will stand aside as the magic happens.

Citations

Adler, M. (1979).  Drawing down the moon.  NY: Viking Press

Barker, E. (1984).  The making of a moonie: Choice or brainwashing.  Oxford: Blackwell.

Herbert, F. (1965).  Dune. Philadelphia : Chilton Books

Luhrmann, T.M. (1991).  Persuasions of a witch’s craft: Ritual magic in contemporary England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Weber, M. (1947).  The theory of social and economic organizations (T. Parsons, Transl.). NY:  Free Press.

Yukl, G. (2012). Leadership in Organizations. NY: Pearson.

For many people, Nigeria is a country only known through stories and news reports. Most recently, the country has taken center stage as Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group, continues its violent campaign in the North Eastern portion of the country. In 2014, Nigeria faced a health crisis during one of the worst Ebola outbreaks ever recorded. The country is also home to the famous Pentecostal preacher Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio, and others like her, who regular speak out against Witchcraft.

Lou Florez

Lou Florez

But there is another side to the West African nation – a vibrant, indigenous spirituality and history that calls out to many Americans. Next month, Lou Florez, an American witch, rootworker, priest and Olorisha, is headed to Nigeria to experience that side firsthand.

As a student of IFA, the religion of the Yoruba culture, Florez told The Wild Hunt that he’s looking forward to “to encountering the Orisha in their homeland.”  He said:

“Earth-centered traditions engage and conceptualize the divine in unique ways, for us divinity is not exterior to our environment but emerges from and is encountered as the physical landscape itself.  In Orisha traditions there is divinity named Oshun who is known as the mother of the sweet waters, and specifically of the Oshun River in Osogbo, Nigeria. … To go to her river is to meet her face to face and be changed by the encounter. Imagine the ability to meet and engage several of these Orisha and teachings all in one journey.”

Florez was chosen to take this trip by the communities of practitioners involved. He described the experience as a “whirlwind.” Through friend and fellow student Shantell Herndon (Iyanifa OyaDara), Florez met a community of people with whom he now studies. Both the U.S.- based group and its sister group in Nigeria had been discussing sponsoring a pilgrimage for some of their American students. The planning itself took three years, and names were finally selected in the fall 2014.

Florez said, “During the last round of divinations my name came up and I was extended the invitation. I think that part of why this is so important for me at this time is that these types of opportunities aren’t give often or repeatedly.”

Like his friend and fellow traveler Herndon, Florez has launched a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of the trip. The majority of the money paid goes directly back to the Nigerian host community. He sees this as an integral part of the journey. He said, “It is about honoring, supporting, and giving back through my labor, service, and capital to communities who have continued this liberation work despite the oppressions and genocides that continue to happen. The money I am raising goes directly to these communities and makes a difference in their lives.” Most of the funds will be given to the host temple, which will then be distributed to the local people.

After leaving the U.S., Florez will arrive in Lagos where he will remain in the hotel for one night. The following morning he will be taken to the initiation site and, as he said, “be in Igbodu (initiation grove) for 10 to 14 days depending on divination.” He added, “The ritual part of this journey is to solidify the connection between the feminine divine and myself through specific ceremonies and initiations which are meant to seed this wisdom within me. I will also undergo the initiation rites of the high priesthood and study with priestesses in medicinal and magical herbalism.”

Florez and another celebrant making offerings and prayers [Courtesy Photo]

Florez and another celebrant making offerings and prayers [Courtesy Photo]

Making such a journey to Nigeria is not entirely unusual. In Florez’ case, the emphais is on religious learning. However, religious instruction is not the only reason Americans, in particular, have made the pilgrimage to Nigeria. In an article for Grio.com, Nigerian journalist Chika Oduah describes a journey in which African-Americans find solace in reconnecting to their ancestral heritage. In such cases, she writes that the travelers “underwent a ritual cleansing from what they call the stigma of slavery.”

This process, which Oduah describes as spiritual as well as cultural, is something Florez, himself, also touched upon. He said, “I was called to these [religious] paths for my own spiritual healing and upliftment and to bring light to all the transgenerational trauma and oppression held within my body. The vestiges and scars of colonialism, racism, and oppression are not only experienced individually but transmitted in our DNA to the next generation. Part of indigenous practice has been to identify and release those narratives in order to move toward liberation.”

While Nigeria may hold the key to spiritual tradition and transformation, travelers must also remain mindful that it is still a modern land with modern problems and a modern culture – one that might not fully embrace their spiritual undertaking. For example, Christianity and Islam are the dominant religions in the region. While many Americans may be turning to the African Tradition Religions, Nigerians are holding tight to these monotheistic worldviews. Only a small percentage of the population practices IFA, or similar traditions. In many cases, those that do are considered “backward” by modern Nigerian standards.

Additionally, there is the very public and strong national anti-gay sentiment in the country. In 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan signed an anti-same-sex marriage bill into law. The bill was backed unanimously by the legislature and by popular sentiment. In a March 2014 article, Oduah explained that, on this subject, Nigerians are “united under a banner of patriotism and what many perceive as a fight against Western imperialism.”

Florez with friend Yeshe Rabbit pouring libation and honoring the sweet waters at Lake Merritt [Courtesy Photo]

Florez with friend Yeshe Rabbit pouring libation and honoring the sweet waters at Lake Merritt [Courtesy Photo]

Florez isn’t worried, saying that he “implicitly trusts the teachers and communities that I will be staying with.” He added that he has “been very clear, transparent, genuine, and honest that I am a gay man.”

However, in preparation, he has been taking the necessary medical precautions. He said, “I’m in the process of getting all my immunizations in order such as Typhoid, Hep A & B, Yellow Fever, Rabies, to name a few. In terms of Ebola, Nigeria was deemed free of new cases … I will also be staying in pocketed communities and not in general public in terms of transmission. Other than these precautions and usual travel items such as a water purifier, I have no idea what I am walking into.”

Despite any obstacles, Florez is determined to make this trip, one that he knows will benefit his own spiritual journey as well as his community of practitioners and students. He said, “the biggest thing that I’m expecting is having to surrender control both physically and spiritual to the process and to these communities.”

Outside of the initiations and education, Florez hopes to have a bit of leisure time for “personal projects such as reading, writing, listening to music, or watching fuzzy Nigerian soap operas.” He plans to visit the local market, meet artisans and others in the community. He hopes to bring back some “Orisha statues, herbs and sacred tools.” He said, “My curiosity is peaked and I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of things that we don’t have access to here in the states.”

While in Nigeria, Florez will be tweeting and updating his public social media for anyone curious about his experiences. His Twitter handle is @louflorez and he has a public Facebook page and blog.

When he returns, he is planning to share what he has learned and his experiences through readings, workshops, conversations, teachings and lectures. He said, “This trip enables me to help open the door a little bit further for future generations to touch into the history, magic, and birth place of the Orishas.”

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. I know it’s April 1st, and thus, April Fools day in the land of journalism, but I promise we’ll keep the fooling to an absolute minimum.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

  • Let’s start with the religious origins of April Fool’s Day traditions, which the Religion News Service explores. Quote: “Some argue that April Fools’ Day is a remnant of early ‘renewal festivals,’ which typically marked the end of winter and the start of spring. These festivals, according to the Museum of Hoaxes, typically involved ‘ritualized forms of mayhem and misrule.’ Participants donned disguises, played tricks on friends as well as strangers, and inverted the social order.” 
  • The Associated Press checks in with the town of Greece in New York, as the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s decision regarding prayer at government meetings. Quote: “After the complaints, the town, in 2008, had a Wiccan priestess, the chairman of the local Baha’i congregation and a lay Jewish man deliver four of the prayers. But from January 2009 through June 2010, the prayer-givers were again invited Christian clergy, according to court documents.” I’ve written extensively on this case, and the outcome could have far-reaching affects on religion in our public square. When the decision comes down, you can be sure we’ll cover it.
  • An LAPD police officer who identifies as Buddhist and Wiccan has filed suit claiming sexual and religious harassment in her workplace. Quote: “DeBellis told Tenney that she no longer practices Catholicism and was now a Buddhist-Wiccan and a priestess, the suit states. ‘Tenney was visibly upset and appeared disgusted by plaintiff’s comment and told (her), ‘Women cannot be priests,”  according to the complaint. Tenney later told DeBellis she ‘cannot switch religions’ and that she ‘will burn in hell,’ the suit states.”
  • The New York Times Magazine interviews Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book “Living With A Wild God” which documents her exploration of an intense mystical experience she had when young. Quote: “I didn’t see any creatures or hear any voices, but the whole world came to life, and the difference between myself and everything else dissolved — but not in a sweet, loving, New Agey way. That was a world flamed into life, is how I would put it.”
  • Metro has a story on Pagans and Witches serving in the British military. Quote: “Prof Ronald Hutton said pagan worship is ‘pretty well’ suited to being in the military. ‘There is no pacifism necessarily embedded in modern pagan or Wiccan religious attitudes, and ancient pagans could make formidable soldiers,’ he said.”

  • The Miami Herald has an interesting piece on Santeria, and the challenges it faces as it grows and changes in an increasingly interconnected world. Quote: “The growth of the back-to-roots movement has kindled infighting, widening rifts between the Yoruba faiths’ spreading branches. It’s a friction particularly felt in Miami, where Lukumi has become more mainstream since the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the religion in a landmark 1993 case. Highly visible Miami priest Ernesto Pichardo considers many so-called traditionalists nothing more than ‘religious tourists,’ being fleeced by Nigerians, who return with strident views that their faith is somehow more authentic.”
  • The Wiccan Family Temple in New York won’t be able to hold a Summer Solstice festival at Astor Place because the group couldn’t prove they were “indigenous” to the neighborhood. Quote: “But the chairman of Community Board 2′s Sidewalks and Street Activity Committee Maury Schott told DNAinfo that the organization had to prove that the proposed street fair was ‘indigenous’ to the street between Broadway and Lafayette, although he could not explain what that meant.” There’s still a chance they could get approved though, so I guess we’ll see how “indigenous” to that part of Manhattan they really are.
  • Sorry Reiki healers, but Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is not on your side. Quote: “Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals—that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately. What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse.’ It isn’t.”
  • At HuffPo, Tom Carpenter endorses a military chaplaincy for “all the troops.” Quote: “Emergent faith communities in the military are properly seeking recognition. Many of these communities not only include but celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members. Humanists and Wiccans seek to join Buddhists, Hindus and other minority groups seeking recognition and representation in our military […] The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy strongly supports the recruitment and retention of highly qualified, clinically trained chaplains who are representative of and committed to a chaplaincy reflecting a broad and inclusive range of interfaith, multicultural and diverse life experiences.”
  • There’s worry over proposed military housing that could potentially block the solstice sunrise at world-famous Stonehenge. Quote: “A plan to build thousands of new homes for soldiers returning from Germany could have to be changed – because they will be built on the horizon where the sun rises on summer solstice at Stonehenge. The Ministry of Defence said they were ‘aware of the issues’ and were organising a meeting with experts on the stones.” In other news, the nearly-as-famous Nine Ladies Stone Circle was recently vandalized. This is why we can’t have nice things, folks.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ’em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973’s “The Wicker Man” and 2012’s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. […] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.'” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.'” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.'” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days […] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

On August 19th, Lee Thompson Young, a television actor who starred in the police procedural Rizzoli & Isles, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Lee Thompson Young

Lee Thompson Young

“We are beyond heartbroken at the loss of this sweet, gentle, good-hearted, intelligent man. He was truly a member of our family. Lee will be cherished and remembered by all who knew and loved him, both on- and offscreen, for his positive energy, infectious smile and soulful grace. We send our deepest condolences and thoughts to his family, to his friends and, most especially, to his beloved mother.”Official statement from the TNT cable channel.

When a young person with a promising career kills themselves, a natural instinct is to ask why this has happened. Sadly, E! News decided to make wrong-headed and ignorant speculation based on Young’s religious practices.

“Those close to Young noticed things ‘really changed’ a few years ago when he began practicing Yorùbá, an Africa-based religion which has a saying, “iku ya j’esin”, meaning  ‘death is preferable to ignominy.’ Some have questioned whether this means that suicide is an acceptable way to preserve personal or family honor in the face of public shame.  However, Yorùbá culture icon and Chief Priest of Osogbo, Araba Ifayemi Osundagbonu Elebuibon, told the National Mirror earlier this year that the religion ‘[does] not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter.’ The Famous Jett Jackson star ‘took [his religion] to the next level and started wearing white all of the time,’ says a source, adding, ‘This religion was everything to him.’  Although he reportedly took a break from practicing Yorùbá, he recently returned to the religion. Just before his death, he visited a small village in Africa for something reportedly related to the religion.”

E! News, being a gossip tabloid, obviously went for the “weird religion” angle, complete with anonymous sources. Amazingly, they went with it even though they partially debunk their own theory. This prompted pop-culture/celebrity/fashion blogger Luvvie to blast E! for the irresponsible and ignorant assertions made.

“Yoruba is not a religion. Let’s get that straight out of the gate. Yoruba is the name of a people; Yoruba is a language; Yoruba is culture. Yoruba people are MY people and that’s MY tongue and that’s MY culture. Yoruba is NOT a religion! […] Ifá is the traditional religion that you probably meant, but assuming that a majority of Yoruba people practice it is incredibly pinhole-minded. Just like we speak different dialects of the language, our beliefs are diverse. Us Yorubas are a religious people and most of us practice Christianity or Islam. Even if Lee was practicing Ifa, he would not be encouraged to take his own life. So let me shut this line of reasoning down now. I’m so upset that it even comes up!”

Clutch Magazine picked up on the story and added that “when covering a topic as sensitive as a man’s death, there is no place for cultural insensitivity and ignorance.” Both Clutch and Luvvie noted that a subsequent clarifying update to the story was not sufficient, and the E! News writer apologized and says she wants to dialog with Luvvie about the issue. That dialog must have been successful, because a followup report on Young’s funeral service was far more accurate and sensitive to the subject.

“Young’s practice of the West African religion Ifa was also highlighted throughout. Dancers dressed all in white performed to the beat of live drum music and the actor’s former karate teacher entered the room ahead of Young’s mother, writer Velma Love, blessing the ground in front of her as she walked in. Some of the mourners were dressed all in white, too, as a nod to Young’s Ifa practice.”

The ray of light in all of this is that some education was able to happen, and the story of Young’s death was not further tarnished by lurid speculation into religions the reporters don’t understand. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream news sources still treat indigenous and traditional religious practices from the African continent, and the faiths that they helped spawn, as suspect or primitive. I hold out hope that some promising signs of increasing interest will yield more understanding and respect.  As for Lee Thompson Young, my deepest condolences go out to his friends and family. What is remembered, lives.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Selena Fox's healing altar for the victims of the Boston attack.

Selena Fox’s healing altar for the victims of the Boston attack.

I’d like to begin by sending out my thoughts to all those who were affected by yesterday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon. There have been many Pagan responses to this still-unresolved tragedy, but I think Ár nDraíocht Féin Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas’ statement may be the best:

“We in ADF participate in a public religion. The gatherings of the folk are important for our communal worship of the Kindreds. Terrorists, such as those who bombed the Boston Marathon today, are counting on the fear of the people to disrupt our sense of community, that we may be isolated from each other, and thus lose our way. I believe that it is our duty as civilized people to resist this impulse, to find our courage, and so defy these enemies of Good, that our relationships with the Kindreds and with each other will continue to thrive.”

May the perpetrators be caught, may justice be done, may the wounded find care, and may the grieved find comfort.

Babugeri, Bansko, Bulgaria, 2010–2011 Charles Fréger, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Babugeri, Bansko, Bulgaria, 2010–2011
Charles Fréger, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

spirits

 

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Today the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which centered on the question of whether an employee of a religious organization could be fired without recourse to anti-discrimination laws if they were ordained within said faith. The case heard by the Supreme Court involved a teacher at a Lutheran school who was fired due to a sleep disorder. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, backed by the Justice Department, felt that her role at the school was largely secular in nature, and shouldn’t fall under the exceptions usually given to clergy within religious groups. However, the court, in a rare unanimous ruling, sided with Hosanna-Tabor Church, and for the first time, acknowledged that a ministerial exception from federal discrimination laws does exist.

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States

“Closing the courthouse door much of the way, but not completely, to workplace bias lawsuits by church employees who act as ministers to their denominations, the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously gave its blessing — for the first time — to a “ministerial exception” to federal, state and local laws against virtually all forms of discrimination on the job.  The Court’s ruling, which only Justice Clarence Thomas said did not go far enough, did not order courts to throw out all such lawsuits as beyond their jurisdiction, but it left them with only a narrow inquiry before the likely order of dismissal would come down.  As soon as the denomination makes its point that it counts an employee as a “minister,” within its internal definition, that is probably the end of the case.  And the employee could be anyone from the congregational leader, on down to any worker considered to be advancing the religious mission.”

In short, ministerial exception involves not only ministers, but any employee who is performing religious work within a faith group. This was plainly expressed in the concurring opinion of Justice Alito and Justice Kagan, who noted that many religions do not use the term “minister” and that “courts should focus on the function performed by persons who work for religious bodies.”

“The First Amendment protects the freedom of religious groups to engage in certain key religious activities, including the conducting of worship services and other religiousceremonies and rituals, as well as the critical process of communicating the faith.  Accordingly, religious groupsmust be free to choose the personnel who are essential tothe performance of these functions. The “ministerial” exception should be tailored to this purpose. It should apply to any “employee” who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith. If a religious group believes that the ability of such an employee to perform these key functions has been compromised, then the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom protects the group’s right to remove the employee from his or her position.”

This concurring opinion will no doubt be very welcome to a coalition of minority faiths, the Muslim-American Public Affairs Council, United Sikhs, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, O Centro Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, and Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha, who filed an amicus brief in this case  warning that they were particularly susceptible to judicial encroachment, and that their faiths often categorize what might be seen as “secular” work within a sacred context.

“…many seemingly secular activities take on deep religious significance within specific faith traditions. For Sikhs, for example, operating a community kitchen and providing meals (langar) to the needy and vulnerable is an indispensible element of religious worship. For some temple-centric religions, the actual process of constructing a temple carries deep religious significance. Hindu temple architects and artisans follow ancient religious traditions in their work. For others, temple overseers may be tasked specifically to ensure that construction workers follow religion-based standards and refrain from profane acts that might desecrate the temple. For other religious organizations, meditation is a form of worship, distributing aid through prescribed means is an essential sacred ritual, and counseling and healing are acts inspired by deity. But because such religious functions – at least from the external view – may be indistinguishable from the same activities carried out for secular purposes, courts trying to parse the sacred from the profane jeopardize the ability of religious organizations to define and carry out their own sacred missions.”

The court agreed with this view, noting that the “amount of time an employee spends on particular activities is relevant in assessing that employee’s status, but that factor cannot be considered in isolation, without regard to the nature of the religious functions performed.” Justice Roberts went on to say that the lower court’s ruling “placed too much emphasis on Perich’s performance of secular duties.”

I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that this is a landmark ruling, enshrining the concept of ministerial exception in our highest court, and all but eliminating workplace discrimination suits if the plaintiff performs a significant religious role within an organization. That said, the court did stress that this doesn’t protect religious organizations from criminal investigation or other kinds of litigation, and should only be applied to the hiring and firing of “ministers”. How broad or narrow the understanding of “ministerial” duties will be is something that will no doubt be settled in the courts for years to come. For minority faiths, it seems to signal that the ministerial exception isn’t isolated to traditional minister-congregational models, and can be applied to any number of religious situations. What the ramifications might be for adherents to non-Christians models of worship and work remains to be seen.

You can read my original post regarding this story, here. For extensive links to documents and analysis of this case, do check out the information-packed SCOTUSblog.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court of the United States will hear a case that could have serious ramifications on what’s known as “ministerial exception” at institutions run by religious organizations. Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission centers on a teacher at a Lutheran school who was fired due to a sleep disorder. The church is claiming that the teacher’s position falls under ministerial exception, and is therefore exempt from any discrimination proceedings, while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, backed by the Justice Department, feels that her role at the school was largely secular in nature, and shouldn’t fall under the exceptions usually given to clergy within religious groups.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Chief Justice John Roberts

Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Chief Justice John Roberts

“The core question before the Justices, in responding to the broad argument for an exception, is how to define the scope of duties of parochial school teachers like Cheryl Perich.   If the decision is that Ms. Perich was a minister, anti-bias laws cannot shield her in the workplace; if she was not, she is then like any other worker, protected against discrimination on the job.   In her case, the claim is that she was discriminated against because of her physical health problems and her insistence on her legal rights — in short, she was allegedly the victim of retaliation, in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.”

While all the expected big players in American religion, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, and the National Association of Evangelicals, are backing the church, and a broad interpretation of ministerial exception, so too are a number of minority religions in the United States.

“Defending the school is a coalition of small and sometimes-obscure religious groups. They include the Muslim-American Public Affairs Council, United Sikhs, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, O Centro Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal and Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha.”

In their amicus brief, this coalition of minority religions say they are particularly susceptible to judicial encroachment, and that their faiths often categorize what might be seen as “secular” work within a sacred context.

“…many seemingly secular activities take on deep religious significance within specific faith traditions. For Sikhs, for example, operating a community kitchen and providing meals (langar) to the needy and vulnerable is an indispensible element of religious worship. For some temple-centric religions, the actual process of constructing a temple carries deep religious significance. Hindu temple architects and artisans follow ancient religious traditions in their work. For others, temple overseers may be tasked specifically to ensure that construction workers follow religion-based standards and refrain from profane acts that might desecrate the temple. For other religious organizations, meditation is a form of worship, distributing aid through prescribed means is an essential sacred ritual, and counseling and healing are acts inspired by deity. But because such religious functions – at least from the external view – may be indistinguishable from the same activities carried out for secular purposes, courts trying to parse the sacred from the profane jeopardize the ability of religious organizations to define and carry out their own sacred missions.”

Interestingly, the Unitarian Universalist Association, filing along with the ACLU and American United, takes a very different view of this case. In their opinion, a generous interpretation of the exception shields groups engaging in abusive or exploitative actions.

“The ministerial exception is designed to allow religious bodies to practice their religion and convey their message without government interference. But the exception thwarts society’s interest in ending discrimination—without serving the exception’s purpose—when applied to shield a religious entity from liability for discrimination or retaliation that is unrelated to religious ideology. As a result, in applying the ministerial exception, courts can and should use their considerable experience in determining whether sincere religious views animated a litigant’s conduct. And the Constitution provides no bar to this enterprise.”

It all comes down to viewpoint. For minority groups like Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye or O Centro Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, who have both gone to the Supreme Court to protect their beliefs and practices, the less power the government has to pass judgment on their practices, the better. For the UUA, and the civil liberties groups who often represent minority faiths in court, it’s about accountability and justice.

“The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of religious-liberty groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, considered by many to be one of the most important religious liberty cases in years.  The brief argues that although churches certainly have a constitutional right to religious autonomy, that right is not absolute, and religious organizations do not have the right to discriminate based on non-religious grounds. Religious institutions should be given some leeway in hiring practices in order to express and practice their faith. For example, a Catholic church need not hire a female priest and an Orthodox Jewish congregation need not hire a female rabbi if doing so would violate their religious tenets. However, this ministerial exception should not apply to discriminatory decisions that have nothing to do with religious doctrine.”

So how will SCOTUS rule? Well, a good preview might be Sylvia Spencer v. World Vision Inc in which the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the religious non-profit organization could hire and fire workers based on religion. That decision was just denied certiorari, meaning they’re allowing the ruling to stand. Is it a harbinger? Will the six Catholic justices find themselves moved by their own church’s position on this case? SCOTUS will have to decide how far the First Amendment reaches, or as law professor Richard W. Garnett put it: “Does a government like ours, limited by a provision like our First Amendment, have the authority to second-guess a religious community’s decision — even a decision that seems wrongheaded or objectionable — about who should be its religious teacher, leader, or minister?” What do you think?

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. Before I begin, let me just remind everyone that the Pagan Japan Relief project, an initiative to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières is just over 3,000 dollars from its final goal! That the Pagan community has been able to collectively raise nearly 27,000 dollars already is a monumental achievement, but lets do a final push, spread the word, and prove that serious fundraising for worthy causes can happen among our interconnected communities. For more background on this initiative, and why it’s important, check out Peter Dybing’s blog.

Now then, unleash the hounds!

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.